After over a year of seeing the market move nearly straight up, it seems like everyone is waiting for markets worldwide to turn downward. But if you have a contrarian mind-set, you should instead consider the possibility that there's still money to be made in this market ... if you know where to look.
Value vs. momentum
In any strong advance, you'll find two sets of investors battling against each other. Value investors will argue that quickly rising stocks are losing their margins of safety, and are therefore now bad investments. For instance, as risky as things seemed a year ago, you could at least argue that buying Bank of America
Momentum investors, on the other hand, argue that investor behavior favors choosing stocks that have been rising lately. That means that rather than being bad values, stocks that have doubled or tripled have the attention of rank and file investors. It also means they are likely to keep turning that attention into higher share prices until something happens to reverse the trend.
So if going against the fearful crowd pushes you to look for momentum stocks, where should you look? Let's see what the numbers show.
Follow the money
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent tool for tracking what it calls "money flow," which it calculates by looking at the impact of each trade on the share price of a particular stock. To get a sense of where bullish money is going, I took a look at money flows on two key days for the market: March 5 and April 14, two of the strongest days for the market in the past six weeks.
As you'd expect, both days featured positive moves in nearly every sector. Among those sectors, though, financial stocks landed near the top of the gainers list on both days. Meanwhile, the telecom sector lagged behind both times, and health care actually saw outflows during Wednesday's rally.
So following a momentum strategy, that would suggest putting your money in the gainers and keeping it away from the laggers. But when it comes to picking individual stocks, it gets a little more complicated.
Even when a sector sees extraordinary money flows, individual stocks within that sector don't necessarily follow suit. On March 5, despite healthy inflows into the financial sector, Goldman Sachs
On April 14, though, when financials overall had the strongest inflows, both B of A and Wells Fargo
Similarly, you can sometimes find diamonds among the wreckage of hard-hit sectors. On April 14, both Verizon
The alternative view
Despite the market's lofty levels, momentum is suggesting that investors be buyers here. One of the hardest things to do is to keep your money at risk rather than taking a sure profit. Yet if you cut your winners too soon, you risk missing out on even bigger gains. Even though holding stocks based on momentum may feel wrong, it may well turn out to be the best move you can make.